Van Hollen talks over­dose, drug is­sues with lo­cals

Ad­dic­tion: ‘It gets very dark’

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­ Twit­ter: @Ja­sonEn­tNews

While opi­oid ad­dic­tion in St. Mary’s County and around the na­tion is at epi­demic lev­els, there is still hope as peo­ple have made it out and into re­cov­ery.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) last week vis­ited Walden’s Bea­con of Hope Re­cov­ery and Well­ness Cen­ter in Lex­ing­ton Park and heard from two women who are in re­cov­ery and are now help­ing oth­ers strug­gling with ad­dic­tion.

Walden and other health­care of­fi­cials view ad­dic­tion as a brain dis­ease and a chronic ill­ness — not a moral fail­ing, Kath­leen O’Brien, Walden di­rec­tor, said.

“We’ve seen a huge spike in ad­dic­tion … in Mary­land and around the coun­try,” Van Hollen said.

“Our use is up,” St. Mary’s County Health Of­fi­cer Dr. Meena Brew­ster said of heroin and opi­oids, although the num­ber of over­dose fa­tal­i­ties here has de­creased re­cently, one of only three ju­ris­dic­tions in Mary­land to see that trend.

“What’s emerg­ing most acutely now is fen­tanyl and heroin,” Brew­ster said.

There have been 14 over­dose deaths this year in St. Mary’s County, Sher­iff Tim Cameron (R) said, and eight of those in­volved fen­tanyl or a mix.

The in­tro­duc­tion of opi­ates has changed the fab­ric of the com­mu­nity, O’Brien said. “We never thought we’d have a heroin is­sue.”

Opi­oid ad­dic­tion used to be pre­scrip­tion abuse, but now heroin is cheaper and more avail­able, said Laura Webb, re­cov­ery sup­port di­rec­tor at the Bea­con of Hope cen­ter.

Heroin is a “sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic health cri­sis,” Brew­ster said. Over­doses from heroin are now com­mon­place, but Nar­can and nalox­one are sav­ing lives, she said.

“Ev­ery day here,” Cameron agreed. Sher­iff’s deputies and res­cue squads carry Nar­can, which can re­verse the ef­fects of an opi­oid over­dose.

St. Mary’s has a con­tin­uum of care for ad­dic­tion, O’Brien said, with mul­ti­ple part­ner­ships be­tween Walden, the sher­iff’s of­fice, MedS­tar St. Mary’s Hospi­tal and the health depart­ment.

“It’s great co­op­er­a­tion,” said Cameron, who over­sees the county jail where there are many in­mates who are ad­dicted to opi­oids.

“But ev­ery­thing that we have is at risk if Med­i­caid was im­pacted neg­a­tively,” O’Brien said, adding that the fed­eral health care pro­gram pro­vides 85 per­cent of fund­ing for Walden. Re­cov­ery ser­vices are still funded by grants, though.

“In this lit­tle corner of the world as dif­fi­cult as it is, I think we have a lot of the pieces, but then they al­ways seem to be at risk,” O’Brien said. “You’re right here where it all hap­pens,” she told Van Hollen.

Staff at the Bea­con of Hope’s re­cov­ery cen­ter have ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence with ad­dic­tion.

Sara Tawney, 27, went through the county’s drug court and came to Walden four years ago. “Things don’t just change overnight. It takes time. And there’s dif­fer­ent lev­els to re­cov­ery and Walden has been there,” she said. Tawney is now a re­cov­ery coach and peer con­tin­u­ing care spe­cial­ist.

She said she was an opi­oid ad­dict who got in trou­ble when she was pulled over by the po­lice for driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence.

Tawney’s baby died in 2006, and she was pre­scribed pain killers. “They kept giv­ing me pre­scrip­tions and I just kept tak­ing them. That’s how it started and it just pro­gressed. It’s all fun un­til it’s not fun any­more,” she said. “It gets very dark.”

Drug court and Walden have “taught me now to live dif­fer­ently,” she said.

The Bea­con of Hope re­cov­ery cen­ter pro­vides a place where peo­ple can come and talk about their prob­lems and hear ad­vice from other ad­dicts in re­cov­ery, Tawney said.

Amanda Ko­hut, 27, came to Walden twice in two years and wasn’t suc­cess­ful at first in re­cov­ery. She went to an­other fa­cil­ity in Mary­land and en­tered a 12-step pro­gram.

Ad­dic­tion is “a shame­based ill­ness,” O’Brien said, so some­times it’s pro­duc­tive for a per­son to try re­cov­ery in a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion where they are a stranger.

“And that’s what it was,” Ko­hut said. “I’d been to Walden so many times I didn’t want to go back and show my face again, so I ended up go­ing out of the county.”

And then there is a con­tin­u­ing stigma for those in re­cov­ery, she said. She can’t qual­ify for a rental apart­ment be­cause of her back­ground, she said, and some au­to­mat­i­cally think you are a bad per­son if you suf­fered from ad­dic­tion.

And it of­ten takes a lot more than be­ing in trou­ble with the law to stay clean, she said.

In re­cov­ery, “We have the chance to see the world with new eyes,” Tawney said. “I think re­cov­ery is a beau­ti­ful thing.”

But even in re­cov­ery, there can be a stigma for those who are go­ing through it with the help of med­i­ca­tion such as methadone or Subox­one, she said.

Peo­ple would not crit­i­cize a di­a­betic for us­ing in­sulin, O’Brien said. “We need to con­tinue to ed­u­cate about how this is a brain dis­ease.”

For decades in the United States, “it’s been the war on drugs,” she said. “It’s been un­fair for ever yone work­ing hard on it.”

“I think it needs to be viewed in the health lens as well,” Van Hollen said.


Kath­leen O’Brien, left, di­rec­tor of Walden, greets Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Mon­day at the Bea­con of Hope Re­cov­ery and Well­ness Cen­ter in Lex­ing­ton Park where of­fi­cials dis­cussed the epi­demic of opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

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